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The Western Isles

<b>The Western Isles</b>Posted by ChrisCeann Hulavig © Chris
Also known as:
  • Na h-Eileanan Siar
  • Outer Hebrides

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Sites/Groups in this region:

19 sites
Barra
6 posts
92 sites
Lewis and Harris
4 posts
11 sites
St. Kilda

Folklore

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In his book ‘Behold the Hebrides’, Alastair Alpin MacGregor (1925) explains how the people of the Hebrides are surrounded by the sea and it though the sea is part of them and they are part of the sea. He says it was known as well as though it were a member of their own family and that to them the sea spoke in Gaelic. He says they listened to what it said and from this they prophesied good and bad fortune, at home and abroad, and how by its sounds and moods they could tell what weather was coming. There was the ‘laughing of the waves’ – ‘gair nann tonn / gair na mara’ and sometimes this laughter would be mocking and derisive when a storm had risked life and feeble humans had struggled to survive it. He also describes the laughing of waves across a great stretch of sand on Lewis in calm and frosty weather as being “weird and eerie”.
In the Hebrides there are many descriptions of the sounds and moods of the sea. Here are a few of them.
Nualan na mara – sounds like the lowing of cattle
Buaireas na mara – restless sea
Gearan na mara – complaining or fretting sea
Mire na mara – joy and cheerfulness of sea
Osnadh – sighing of sea, like the breeze through pine and larch at nightfall
Caoidh na mara – lament of the sea.

He says that sometimes the sea is totally still and silent as though it sleeps, and the people nearby are lulled into sleep also; and he says that people who live by the sea derive their vision from it.

Martin Martin, writing of the Western Isles in 1695 says of the inhabitants of one of the small, then inhabited, islands round Lewis, that they took their surname from the colour of the sky, the rainbow and the clouds.

Source: ‘Mother of the Isles’ by Jill Smith
tjj Posted by tjj
22nd July 2013ce
Edited 22nd July 2013ce

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The Hebridean Iron Age: Twenty Years' Research


By D.W. Harding:

This paper reviews progress in Atlantic Scottish Iron Age studies over the past twenty years, with particular reference to a long-term programme of fieldwork in west Lewis undertaken by the University of Edinburgh. It deprecates the survival and revival of older conventional models for defining and dating the major field monuments of the period and region in the face of accumulating evidence for the origins of Atlantic roundhouses in the mid-first millennium BC, and discusses important new evidence for the first-millennium AD sequence of occupation and material culture. The material assemblages of the Hebridean Iron Age are contrasted with the impoverished and relatively aceramic material culture of lowland Scotland and northern England, and the importance of the western seaways in later prehistoric and early historic times as a distinctive cultural region is emphasised.
Hob Posted by Hob
19th September 2005ce
Edited 30th August 2007ce

Latest posts for the Western Isles

Showing 1-10 of 1,721 posts. Most recent first | Next 10

Borve Chamber Cairn (Chambered Cairn) — Fieldnotes

After splashing down the hill I arrived at the road near the Sgarasta standing Stone (plus friends) and proceeded to walk north east along the A859 following the same route I'd taken to the find the track to Dun Borve. Spectacular scenery all round as the sun blinked between the clouds which created different types of atmosphere and colours to hillside, sea and sand.

There is a hard way and easy way to reach the cairn. To get there I found the hard way. The chamber cairn can be seen from the road and I immediately jumped the first fence just north of a small burn, the Allt Sta. Sadly, for me, not the best idea I've ever had as this was a boggy mess. However I made it to firmer stuff as I headed west. As the burn headed downhill I climbed a small hill to see that the cairn was only about 100 meters away.

Sadly the cairn has seen much damage but I think its still impressive. The capstone rests in front of some of the stones it probably sat on. It appeared that the standing stones were teeth and the massive capstone a tongue, prehistory sticking its tongue out to modernity. The surrounding cairn is 20m wide and it still has surviving kerbs. It is best preserved on the western side at just over 1m tall. Like a few sites nearby I wonder if erosion will finally win the day.

As I picked up my rucksack the sun once again appeared and several sites came into view. Dun Borve to the east is easily spotted with others to the north and south. To the west Taransay and much further to the west St Kilda. When you see all of these sites, its the same everywhere, you realise just how good the prehistoric peoples were at navigation. They simply used the sea and stars/landmarks as a road. That same road will take me back to St Kilda in the reasonably near future.

With that I took the simple way back to the A859 via a track which had appeared from nowhere. Another type of road which led to the ferry and road home.

Visited 5/8/2017.
drewbhoy Posted by drewbhoy
10th October 2017ce

S64, Scarista (Burial Chamber) — Fieldnotes

From S70 I headed north jumping several recently made streams, a couple of older and wider streams plus a few fences. All the time to the west it remained cloudy but to the north west the sun was breaking through to light up Luskentyre and its famous beaches. Gradually I was also heading downhill as I approached the remnants of another burial cairn.

The cairn at S64 is also built on a platform about 10m wide and resembles its neighbour at S70. At certain angles the site looks like a complete wreck but closer up the kerb survives quite well and the chamber inside would have been around 4m by 3m. At its tallest it is 0.4m. Down below the stone and its friends at Sgarasta can be seen which made me wonder if the two burial cairns on the hillside were connected to what many consider to be Harris's most important site.

As I made my way back down to the road the wind picked up, the sun finally came out and Borve beach could be seen. Just to the north was Borve Chamber Cairn, the final site for this trip.

Visited 5/8/2017.
drewbhoy Posted by drewbhoy
9th October 2017ce

S70, Scarista (Burial Chamber) — Fieldnotes

The final morning and the final three sites for this visit starting at the Scarista S70 cairn. Heading north from Leverburgh we parked near the Isle Of Harris golf course to climb up to the first of two cairns to the east of the road. Underfoot conditions were soggy as there had been a lot of rain through the night. Small streams had become torrents. However, at least the rain had stopped by the time I reached S70.

From the golf course I headed almost straight east crossing the Sgarasta Mhor. As soon as you see a fence in distance keep a look out for a green patch. This is the remnants of the cairn which at one time must have been impressive. Still impressive are the views in every direction.

Built on top of an almost 12 meter wide platform the cairn has what looks like a central cist and a ring of kerbs. Rectangular in shape it measures at 5m by 4m. Parts of the cairn reach 0.4m at their highest. As usual a fair bit of houking has occurred. It would be unfair to describe any site as my favourite but these sites looking into the Atlantic and the nearby islands are hard to beat. The weather certainly adds to the atmosphere. As I walked away to the next site the sun started to appear causing the sea to change colour and the beaches of Luskentyre to shine.

With the scenery in full morning mode I splashed my way to the next site.

Visited 5/8/2017.
drewbhoy Posted by drewbhoy
8th October 2017ce

Scarista - S56 (Stone Row / Alignment) — Fieldnotes

There seems to be stone rows aplenty in these West Harris shorelines. Scarista has three, but I only found one and like I've said a few times before when I get back I'll look again.

This stone row is made up of three small boulders, a fourth stone could well be missing but could also be covered in turf. Horgabost has similar sites.

It was time to head back to Rodel after an exhausting day, the next day would be the last day of the trip.

Visited 4/8/2017.
drewbhoy Posted by drewbhoy
7th October 2017ce

Scarista S-51 (Platform Cairn) — Fieldnotes

Situated very close, about 50-60 meters north, to the standing stone and mound is a wee platform cairn. It is about 15m wide and no more than 0.2m tall. Only the west side of the platform can be seen, the rest being turf covered.

Visited 4/8/2017.
drewbhoy Posted by drewbhoy
7th October 2017ce

Sgarasta (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Fieldnotes

Heading back from Hashinish we stopped to have a look at what many say is Harris's most important prehistoric site. It certainly has the views and a lot of other sites can be seen from here, some very close indeed. The stone might be lonely but it certainly is by itself as hard to spot sites are in the same field.

It is a tremendous site, surrounded by burial cairns high above to the east and the Borve Chamber cairn. Just to the coast side of the stone there is mound that is almost 12m wide and up to 1m tall. It is made up of earth and small stones and what appear to be a couple of buried kerbs.

I was told to look in the field and I'm glad I did as I found a couple of other sites. Reporting back to my informant I was told I should have looked harder. As Tjj says 'it is a place full of wonderful surprises'. Next time!

Visited 4/8/2017.
drewbhoy Posted by drewbhoy
7th October 2017ce

Dun Borve (Stone Fort / Dun) — Fieldnotes

Toe Head certainly left an impression on me and I'll definitely be back but Dun Borve was calling so I retraced my steps back to Northton and the A859. I also retraced my steps back to Croft 36, obviously I needed sustenance.

Once back on the A859 I walked north following the road past Scarista, which I'd visit later in the day, the golf course and the still clouded Sound Of Taransay. Just to the north east of the sites at Scarista there is a handily placed sign post indicating the track to Dun Borve, very handy indeed.

This track isn't in very good condition, however marker poles lead to the dun which is easily spotted as a prominent rocky landmark.

Walls surrounding the site are measured at over 14m and some of it remains built, a testament to their, the Iron Age peoples, building skills. The entrance to the dun is in the east leading to a circular turf patch indicating some type of building, enclosure or forecourt. Various buildings have been attached to the walls i.e. sheiling huts, wind breaks. Like Canmore I think it is also a dun as it is a small area for a complicated and larger structure such as a broch. A superb place for a look out as it looks to the Sound Of Taransay to the north, the Atlantic to the west and the mountains of South Harris to the east. It is also, more importantly, looks over the largest expanse of fertile land in South Harris. This explains the prehistory, all the graveyards and The Coffin Road.

Also in the area are cup marked rocks. Tiompan has kindly posted some these to this site page.

Another wonderful place, is there no end of them here? I missed the south direction earlier, as there is another dun and possibly cairns to the south, a considerable walk which I'll do next time. Time to walk back south to Rodel avoiding the camper vans whilst admiring the landscape. Later on it was up to Hashinish, now that is a road!

Visited 4/8/2017.
drewbhoy Posted by drewbhoy
7th October 2017ce

Toe Head (Broch) — Links

Canmore


Details of the excavations and some lovely aerial photos.
drewbhoy Posted by drewbhoy
7th October 2017ce

Toe Head (Broch) — Fieldnotes

From Croft 36, Northton, keep heading north until the road and village end at a gate. Beyond is a track which has lots of farm machinery old and new abandoned at the track side. Keep following the track taking the second track going west. Should be said that the track from Northton to Toe Head is very good and fairly flat. This will lead straight to the broch on the western edge of Ceapabhal. The scenery is of course stunning, the first part of the walk looks onto the Sound of Taransay, the second part has the rugged coastline and the Atlantic. All the time Ceapabhal watches over the comings and goings.

All the prehistoric ages are represented here with evidence of Mesolithic through to the Iron Age. Traces of these can be found nearby as settlements, rock art etc have been found along the coast to the south. My next trip to Harris will involve a walk looking for them, todays main aim was the broch at Toe Head.

A lot of the broch still stands. Sadly for it, it stands as part of the ruined chapel Rubh’ an Teampuill, point of the temple. Other parts of the broch can be seen on this lonely promontory. The site is built on the highest part of the promontory with traces of wall to the north. In fact traces of the wall can be seen all round the church suggesting it must have been huge, some of the walls must have almost 1.5 wide. As well as being used for the church, stonework had been used to build a dry stane dyke on Ceapabhal. To the west end erosion has taken place, the cause of this being easy to see. Weather changes here quickly and wind had grown very strong, the sea very rough. After a decent look round it was time to get the feet moving again.

Wonderful place and a place to let the imagination run wild, or in my case run riot. Next stop, the long hike to the stunning Dun Borve.

Visited 4/8/2017.
drewbhoy Posted by drewbhoy
7th October 2017ce

Lewis and Harris — News

Archaeology worth £4m to Western Isles' economy


Standing stones that are 5,000 years old are helping to boost the Western Isles economy by £4m a year, according to a new report.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-41498458
drewbhoy Posted by drewbhoy
5th October 2017ce
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